September 9, 2011
By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun
A key first nations group has rejected Enbridge's offer to give aboriginal groups a 10-per-cent ownership stake in the proposed $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline.
The five northern B.C. first nations that make up the Yinka Dene Alliance claim traditional territory that covers 25 per cent of the pipeline route.
First nations' support is considered critical to the project because land claims have not been settled along most of the pipeline route through northern B.C.
In its response to Enbridge, the Yinka Dene Alliance called the Calgary-based company's offer a "desperate and disrespectful attempt to buy our support for this pipeline."
Enbridge's one-page offer to the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation, one of the members of the alliance, said ownership would provide an estimated $7-million profit over the 30-year pipeline life. The offer was described as time sensitive. "Consequently, we strongly recommend that you meet with our aboriginal relations team at your earliest opportunity to receive the agreement," Enbridge said in the letter obtained by The Vancouver Sun.
It's an offer Enbridge officials said Thursday was just hammered out weeks ago and sent to all first nations with an interest in the pipeline, including the members of the Yinka Dene Alliance.
Enbridge had said earlier it would be offering an ownership stake to about 50 first nations in B.C. and Alberta whose traditional territory bordered on the 1,140-kilometre pipeline route.
However, this is the first time members of the Yinka Dene Alliance had been made a direct offer, said Nadleh Whut'en First Nation Chief Larry Nooski.
The Yinka Dene Alliance has been one of the most vocal opponents of the pipeline, citing concerns a pipeline spill would harm the environment, particularly salmon-bearing streams and rivers. Enbridge has said the pipeline will be built and operated to the highest safety standards, and that it is willing to address first nations' concerns.
The pipeline would have the capacity to transport 525,000 barrels a day of crude from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat for export largely to China. A smaller twin pipeline would carry condensate, a kerosenelike liquid used to thin heavy crude in pipelines, back to the oilsands.
The proposed pipeline would pass just 10 kilometres north of the Nadleh Whut'en community, 550 kilometres north of Vancouver.
First nations on the coast have also cited concerns over the risk of an oil tanker spill.
"There is not any amount of money that compares to the possible damage should an oil spill happen. The replacement value of nature is priceless," Nooski said in an interview Thursday, speaking on behalf of the alliance.
The five first nations - which also include Takla Lake, Wet'suwet'en, Saik'uz and Nak'azdli - have traditional territory that encompasses dozens of streams and rivers, including salmon-bearing rivers like the Stuart and Morice rivers.
Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said the company is not surprised by the Yinka Dene's rejection.
"This response from the Yinka Dene is not representative of the general response to the equity offer. We've had a lot of positive response from aboriginal communities, and we remain in consultation and discussions with a number of communities," said Stanway.
The Enbridge spokesman would not say how many first nations the company is in discussions with, or name any of them.
Stanway said Enbridge wants ownership deals wrapped up by next spring, which is why the company hopes detailed discussions with first nations will happen quickly.
The Northern Gateway project is scheduled to begin regulatory hearings before the National Energy Board in early 2012.
University of Calgary law professor Nigel Bankes said Enbridge has offered the ownership stake to first nations because it wants to be viewed as supporting communities facing risks from the project.
But it is also aware first nations need to be consulted and accommodated, said Bankes, chair of the natural resources law department.
Even though it's a government responsibility, the last thing Enbridge wants is someone arguing to the National Energy Board the duty to consult and accommodate has not been satisfied, said Bankes.